Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has criticized Finland at a political event in Romania, accusing the Nordic country of double standards.
"We have to bite our lip when our Finnish friends criticize the state of our legal system. We can't smile or laugh – we have to stay cool and give good answers," Orbán told a crowd of thousands at the Tusványos Festival, located in a part of Transylvania with strong Hungarian roots.
Orbán said that Finland – which recently assumed the rotating presidency of the European Council – has a very problematic legal system. He singled out Finland's lack of a separate court for dealing with matters of constitutional law and the presidential authority to appoint judges.
In light of this, he implied that Hungarians find it ridiculous when Finland calls attention to Hungary's enforcement of the rule of law.
Concern about loss of funding
Mounting Hungarian criticism appears to be motivated by Finnish plans during its term of European Council presidency to weigh tying EU funding to the rule of law. Hungary is traditionally one of the largest beneficiaries of EU aid.
Finnish public broadcaster Yle spoke with Hungary's Justice Minister Judit Varga in Tusványos. She said the attacks on Finland were not orchestrated by the Hungarian government, although a former state secretary Zoltán Kovács was shown to be behind earlier blog posts that made the same critique of Finland's legal system.
Saturday marked the first time that Prime Minister Orbán himself made such accusations.
He also used the occasion to say that Hungary must stay strong in its dealings with Finland.
The annual Tusványos Festival is a music gathering with political overtones. As a proponent of national conservatism, Hungary's populist prime minister has used the forum to deliver several keynote speeches. In 2014, for example, he declared Hungary's official transition to an "illiberal democracy" there.
Minister: Finland fulfilling EU-appointed responsibility
Finland's Minister of European Affairs Tytti Tuppurainen commented that she hasn't yet studied Orbán's specific comments, but said she is familiar with Hungarian opposition to the plans to make EU funding dependent on the rule of law.
"This is not a process that was set in motion by Finland against Hungary, but rather an initiative of the European Parliament. The Parliament made a decision a year ago that obliged the Council to discuss Hungarian matters and hear Hungary out," she said.
Tuppurainen said Finland was simply fulfilling its mandate dictated by the European Parliament.
"Finland is now doing what we are required to do as the country serving as European Council President. We lead the conversations; we are by no means prosecutors," she said.